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N.T. Wright Slams the NIV

From N.T. Wright’s latest book, Justification –

“In this context, I must register one strong protest against one particular translation. When the New International Version was published in 1980, I was one of those who hailed it with delight. I believed its own claim about itself, that it was determined to translate exactly what was there, and inject no extra paraphrasing or interpretative glosses. This contrasted so strongly with the then popular New English Bible, and promised such an advance over the then rather dated Revised Standard Version, that I recommended it to students and members of the congregation I was then serving. Disillusionment set in over the next two years, as I lectured verse by verse through several of Paul’s letters, not least Galatians and Romans. Again and again, with the Greek text in front of me and the NIV beside it, I discovered that the translators had had another principle, considerably higher than the stated one: to make sure that Paul should say what the broadly Protestant and evangelical tradition said he said. I do not know what version of Scripture they use at Dr. Piper’s church. But I do know that if a church only, or mainly, relies on the NIV it will, quite simply, never understand what Paul was talking about.

This is a large claim, and I have made it good, line by line, in relation to Romans in my big commentary, which prints the NIV and the NRSV and then comments on the Greek in relation to both of them. Yes, the NRSV sometimes lets you down, too, but nowhere near as frequently or as badly as the NIV. And, yes, the NIV has now been replaced with newer adaptations in which some at least of the worst features have, I think, been at least modified. But there are many who, having made the switch to the NIV, are now stuck with reading Romans 3:21-26 like this:

“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known…. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe…. [God] did this to demonstrate his justice… he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

In other words, “the righteousness of God” in Romans 3:21 is only allowed to mean “the righteous status which comes to people from God,” whereas the equivalent term in Romans 3:25 and Romans 3:26 clearly refers to God’s own righteousness – which is presumably why the NIV has translated it as “justice,” to avoid having the reader realize the deception. In the following paragraph, a similar telltale translation flaw occurs, to which again we shall return. In Romans 3:29, Paul introduces the question, “Is God the God of Jews only?” with the single-letter word e normally translated “or”; “Or is God the God of Jews only?” –in other words, if the statement of Romans 3:28 were to be challenged, it would look as though God were the God of Jews only. But the NIV, standing firmly in the tradition that sees no organic connection between justification by faith on the one hand and the inclusion of Gentiles within God’s people on the other, resists this clear implication by omitting the word altogether. Two straws in a clear and strong wind. And those blown along by this wind may well come to forget that they are reading a visibly and demonstrably flawed translation, and imagine that this is what Paul really said.” (N.T. Wright; Justification, pp. 51-53)


N.T. Wright seems to make reference to the TNIV when he refers to “the NIV has now been replaced with newer adaptations.” But the TNIV maintains most of the same translation problems that Wright refers to. The TNIV reads “the righteousness of God” rather than the NIV’s “righteousness from God,” but the rest of Wright’s complaints still remain in the TNIV.

I had never noticed this change from “the righteousness of God” to “the righteousness from God” in the NIV until reading Wright’s point in his book. I think it is something students of the scriptures must be aware of while studying.

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